Five arrested over misleading ‘government’ websites

July 7th 2014

Police have arrested five people under the Fraud Act as part of an investigation into websites made to look like official government sites.

For information and advice on copycat websites, click here

The arrests follow thousands of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Citizens Advice.

Most of the 5,700 people who contacted the organsations alleged that they had been scammed over fees charged for driving licence and passport applications and tax returns.

The government is launching an awareness campaign warning people to be wary of the misleading websites, whose whose addresses are frequently designed to trick unsuspecting users that they are official with URLs including 'govuk', 'directgov' and other misleading text. In reality, official government services can be viewed and accessed only on the website.

Richard Lloyd, Executive Director of consumer organisation Which? told the BBC that copycat websites mislead people into paying potentially hundreds of pounds for services that should be free. “People should be aware of rogue websites that are out there trying to exploit them," he explained.

The National Trading Standards Board said it was making it "as difficult as possible" for online hoaxers to operate.

Lord Harris, Chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, said: "We have been working with search engines such as Google and Bing to remove adverts from online search results and we continue to gather intelligence across the country to help tackle this issue. We urge you to avoid unofficial websites which could leave you out of pocket or at risk of identity theft."

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said "It's great that it's becoming easier and more common to use the internet to order official documents such as passports or tax discs, but people should be aware of rogue websites that are out there trying to exploit them and take their hard-earned cash and even put them at risk of identity theft. The enforcement action which the National Trading Standards eCrime team has taken demonstrates the government's commitment to tackling these scammers. We will not let them get away with misleading consumers."

Those arrested last week are on police bail, according to trading standards officials.

By Get Safe Online

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